Rigging rules and rates are weighing down the live events industry
A long time ago, the live events industry did not have all the safety regulations in place that you see today. An audiovisual company could go into a hotel with truss and motors, and rig the equipment for the show. Regulations were lax, prices were reasonable, and companies were given freedom to put on events without many restrictions. Unfortunately, there are many potential hazards in live show environments, and minimal safety regulations can lead to accidents if an equipment provider is not properly trained. Ultimately, hotels realized that hoisting heavy equipment over people’s heads posed a serious safety and liability issue, and began to implement restrictions that gave them control over rigging in their venues. While added safety is critical, a new era of rigging was born where complete control by the venue opened the door for price gouging and exploitation of the system.
For the most part, rigging became an exclusive service provided within hotels, and in the early years of this change, the pricing was still reasonable. A shift began in 2008 when the poor economic climate hit the live events industry hard. Hotels began requiring in-house service providers to pay higher and higher commissions for a continued source of revenue. In doing so, the prices of in-house services skyrocketed, and the exclusivity of rigging has now become a weapon within this system. In-house providers with exclusive rigging contracts will make offers to discount or comp rigging fees in exchange for providing the audiovisual for the event. Simply put, exclusive rigging services have developed into a tool for the in-house provider to deliver on an overly inflated revenue stream to the hotel.
The cost of rigging services in hotels has spiraled out of control. The reality of the situation these days is that anyone can buy and own all the rigging equipment outright for less than the current cost of renting the same gear for a few days. As an example, we recently had a client with some simple rigging needs, requiring some truss and motors for a small show in a hotel for three days. An approximate cost for the rental of this gear should have been around $1000, but the in-house audiovisual provider was charging $15,000! Even if the in-house provider “discounted” the rental costs of this rigging equipment by half, it’s still, quite simply, a complete rip-off. The rates have become so exorbitant in today’s market, the cost of rigging audiovisual equipment is becoming a much greater expense than the total AV equipment costs for certain shows. How does that make any sense?
In addition to these ridiculous rates for exclusive rigging services, hotels have started to change policies in ways that are solely designed to increase their bottom line. The loading capacity of rigging points has decreased, requiring the client to purchase additional points to rig the equipment. Suddenly, a load point with a previous capacity of 1000 pounds that has been deemed safe for the last twenty years is now a 750-pound loading point, with the costs of buying additional points disguised as safety rules.
As a result, clients are compromising the quality and design of the show to manage rigging expenses. Floor-supported screens and sets for productions are becoming more common. Even with floor-supported structures, hotels have implemented height restrictions requiring rigging if exceeding a certain height, such as 8-10 feet, even for simple items such as drape.
What can be done? Become an educated buyer, and don’t allow yourself to be held hostage by the cost of these exclusive rigging services. Check the cost of rigging in the local market for your event. In some situations, the hotel AV provider will be cross-renting the rigging equipment at competitive rates from a local supplier, marking it up 20 times to rent to the client, and calling that an “exclusive” hotel service. It’s a money-making scheme, and knowing the local market prices and asking questions can give you a point of negotiation for the end client.
Furthermore, it is critical to negotiate these services in advance before signing any contracts for space. If you have a choice in venues, be willing to consider hotels willing to work with you on the cost of rigging. There are hotels and convention properties out there that offer reasonable costs and requirements. If an unreasonable contract is already in place with a venue, production teams should educate their clients on ways to save on rigging costs in the future. A non-technical person signing a contract for space may not take rigging costs into consideration when selecting a property. It’s important to teach the end client to red flag exclusive rigging and reasonable costs for these services in the space selection process.
Inflated rigging costs and restrictions by these exclusive in-house service providers are greatly impacting the live events industry, and will not relent until customers have reached their threshold. As an industry, we must stand up and put an end to this blatant misuse of power. Our clients need to understand that they are being scammed for rigging services, and the system is having a negative impact on the quality of events. Until customers start to say no, the situation is likely to get worse, work-arounds to the problem will continue, and shows will sacrifice quality. The system is rigged, and we need to take a stand.